The Crucifixion


Robert F Kunkle - Choral Director, Annapolis High School

Robert F. Kunkle, Choral Director Annapolis High School (AHS), in Spring 1959, creatively utilized his mixed choir and 2 women's choirs, plus student soloists from the choirs, to mount 2 performances of The Crucifixion by composer John Stainer. Choirs' members were from the graduating classes of 1959, 1960 and 1961.

Somehow Mr. Kunkle obtained a good tape recorder and microphone, which he used to record the 2 performances of The Crucifixion. The "best of" from those 2 performances were edited together and pressed as a limited release monaural record.

Note. If anyone has the history on how Mr. Kunkle obtained that equipment, that would be great to add!

Mr. Kunkle graduated from The Eastman School of Music and attended the Dusquesne University Music Appreciation - Chorus Orchestra. In addition to being the director of the choral program at AHS in 1959, he also taught music theory at AHS and was organist/choirmaster for at least one church in Annapolis.

The Building

In 1959 AHS was located in the building at 801 Chase Street, in what is now known as Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. (Access was from West Street to Amos Garrett to Constitution, to the front of the school on Chase.) That the old high school building is preserved is a testament to those in Annapolis who came together to preserve the old AHS building. It is open to the public to browse its art gallaries. Their website is

Street map from West St to Maryland Hall on Chase St

Maryland Hall has 4 resident companies, one of which is the Annapolis Chorale. (See The Resident Companies of Maryland Hall.) The Chorale's contact form cites room 202. (I wonder if that is the same large room on the 2nd floor where Mr. Kunkle's choruses practiced?)

Maryland Hall can be contacted at:

Annapolis Chorale can be contacted at:

About The Crucifixion

Summary History of The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion was published in 1887. The libretto and score were written following the period when both W J Sparrow Simpson and John Stainer had worked at St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England, which was 1876-1882.

W J Sparrow Simpson was a very young Church of England priest when he wrote the libretto to The Crucifixion. He was appointed Succentor at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1876, which was 4 years after Stainer was appointed Organist at St. Paul's Cathederal in 1872. Four years after being named Succentor at St. Paul's Simpson obtained his BA from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1882, was ordained and left to go to Christ Church, Albany Street in Marylebone, London as curate.

The Crucifixion was the second libretto Simpson wrote for Stainer while a curate at Albany Street in Marylebone, London. (The musical score was composed by John Stainer, who died in 1901.) The year following publication of The Crucifixion, Simpson left Albany Street in Marylebone as curate and became vicar of St Mark's, Regent’s Park, 1888–1904. In 1904 he became chaplain of Ilford Hospital Chapel until his death in 1952.

In 1854, 7 years after Felix Mendelssohn's death in November 1847, who had championed revival of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, Stainer was invited to sing in the first English performance of Bach's St Matthew's Passion under William Sterndale Bennett at the Hanover Square Rooms. Eighteen years later, Stainer was appointed organist at St. Paul's Chathederal, London in 1872. The following year, 1873, he made the St Matthew's Passion part of St. Paul's Cathedral's Holy Week liturgies.

Stainer was thus familiar with the musical structure of the St. Matthew's Passion and chose to model his score for The Crucifixion on the scheme of choruses, chorales, recitatives and arias as used by J.S.Bach in his St Matthew's Passion. Thus, Stainer's score gave his soloists a mixture of recitative and reflective arias, while the chorus commented on the action and also took part in it.

For those interested in a bit of the history of how J S Bach's St Matthew's Passion became established in England and thus became the model Stainer used for his score for The Crucifixion you can read about it by opening the window below. It is an interesting story.

J.S.Bach lived his entire life in North East Germany. (That is the area where Martin Luther established Lutheranism and which after WW II became part of East Germany.) J.S. Bach died in 1750, and by 1829 in Germany, when Mendelssohn was only 20, J.S. Bach's works had become popularly unknown. That year Felix Mendelssohn mounted a performance of his shortened version of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, to great success. (Subsequent performances added back more parts of the Passion getting closer to the original version of J.S.Bach's composition.)

Mendelssohn first visited Britain in 1829, the same year he premiered his revival of the St Matthew's Passion in Germany. He returned to Britain in 1832 for what is called his Grand Tour. He returned a number of times afterward, and on a visit in 1842, Mendelssohn spent an evening at the Palace accompanying the 23-year-old Queen Victoria in songs composed by himself and his sister Fanny. After which, Victoria gave him two themes on which he extemporized.

Mendelssohn continued to be based in Germany, where in 1843 he helped set up the Leipzig Conservatory. (Note. The American hymnist, William Batchelder Bradbury, departed for Europe in July 1847 to study under Mendelssohn at the Leipzig Conservatory. Unfortunately for Bradbury, Mendelssohn died in November that year, age 38. That was shorthly after his sister Fanny died in May 1847.)

Perhaps Mendelssohn's greatest musical success came the year before in 1846, the year before his death. In Birmingham, England he premiered his oratorio Elijah.

He was quite overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the audience that night: "No work of mine ever went so admirably at its first performance," he reported, "nor was received with such enthusiasm by both the musicians and the audience alike as this oratorio. No fewer than four choruses and four arias were encored!"

Although he died the following year in 1847, his influence in England held strong throughout the century, exerting a dominate influence on the entire British school of composers. Mendelssohn loved England from the moment he first arrived in London in 1829. His popularity in England contributed to them also embracing Mendelssohn's revival of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. As noted above, the first English performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion was in 1854, 7 years after Mendelssohn's death, with Stainer a praticipant singer.

How pervasive Mendelssohn's influence was on the continuing popularity of J.S.Bach's music in England is illustrated by the fact that 66 years after the 1854 first performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion in England, in 1920, Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) heard a rehearsal by the Bach Choir of London of Bach's Cantata 147. She decided she really liked the last chorus of Part II of that cantata and proceeded to popularize it under the title of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."

Dame Hess began including a piano arrangement of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" as an encore number to her performances. She was persuaded to write down and publish her piano transcription in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for two pianos, i.e., a piano duet.

Note. This song is included as song 17 on David Goettee's Hymns and Songs for Living album. See Hymns and Songs Playlist. More history about this song is included in David's History Through 26 Hymns and Songs, which is the companion to the album. The English lyrics to this song were created by the Englishman Lord Robert S. Bridges as a "Very Loose" translation, with much poetic license from the original lyrics by Martin Janus (c. 1620 – c. 1682).

-- End of Accordian Window on J.S.Bach in Britain --

Both the literary quality for the libretto of The Crucifixion and the musical quality of the composition have been attacked by some as not being high quality poetry or composition. (It seems likely the compositions The Crucifixion was being compared to as the basis for those comments may not be appropriate. That is because the comparisons were to concert oratorios, and perhaps choral music for trained/professional cathedral choirs.)

It is worthwhile understanding, Stainer had a different goal for his composition. Namely, it was explicitly intended as an extended Passiontide (Easter season) meditation that ordinary Parish choirs in Britain could perform, and to which their congregations could immediately relate. There was no piece of English church music fitting that goal in England at the time Stainer wrote The Crucifixion.

That goal seems to also explain why his accompaniment score for The Crucifixion used only pipe organ. That is because pipe organs were available in almost all parish churches. Using only using pipe organ accompaniment for The Crucifixion was in contrast with many orchestrated oratorios, such as: Handel's Judas Maccabaeus (and even the Messiah); and Mendelssohn's Elijah. However, those oratorios are essentially concert pieces requiring more expansive resources of professional soloists, choirs and an orchestra.

Stainer's success at meeting his goal of creating a meditation performable by parish choirs is clear, as testified to by the enduring popularity of The Crucifixion.

Note. The AHS choirs' performance of this work in 1959 was only 72 years after The Crucifixion was written. Even now, Stainer's setting of the chorus "God so loved the world" continues to be performed as an anthem by many churches in its own right.

Many still enjoy the palpable sense of ritual, which folklore status has given to The Crucifixion. For such reasons, including the character of music and text, even in 2022, 135 years after it was first performed, few towns in England are likely to find themselves in Holy Week without any local performance of Stainer’s The Crucifixion.

New Accompaniment Scorings

For those that consider The Curcifixion to be musically less worthy of attention, it is interesting to note that in addition to the observation that this work is a perennial Holy Week favorite, there have been at least two orchestrations produced for this work since the turn of this century.

Adaptation for Annapolis High School Choirs

Using the original score for organ accompaniment (AHS in 1959 had a Hammond organ in the auditorium) Mr. Kunkle adapted performance of the parts of this work to fit his choirs. The mixed chorus sang the parts written for mixed chorus. The two women's choruses sang some of the parts written for recitatives. He parceled the remaining solos and recitatives out to student solists from the choirs. (They are named on the record and on the playlist on this website.)

(Editor's note. My vague recollection is Mr. Kunkle may have augmented some additional harmony parts, in addition to those of Stainer's, for what was sung by the women's choruses for the recitative parts. — Will verify during the mastering process.)

Creation of 1959 Limited Edition Recording

There were two performances, which were recorded in monaural. One was for the students during the day, and the other was for the community, performed in the evening, which would have included family and friends.

Neither Mr. Kunkle nor others involved in creating the recordings or editing together "best-of" master from the 2 recordings had any knowledge when this project was undertaken in 1959 about technical processes required for making a recording.

Further, it was not until after recordings of the performances were completed that the idea of having a record made became known to students involved. So, no professionally knowledgeable persons about the recordmaking process in the 1959 era of the industry were consulted upfront for planning management of the tapings of the performances.

It is worth reflecting on the fact that in 1959 the processes of creating a good recording did not yet have access to the flexibilities digital mastering has since added to the process. As a result, the two performances and a patch addition were recorded at different gain/loudness levels and in different acoustic environments. (The different volume levels are now straightforward to fix, and the different acoustic environments can be minimized, though not totally fixed.)

What was then known about industy practice was to edit/splice together the best-of-performances, which was carried out. Unfortunately, that meant the resulting spliced together master tape of best-of-performances was louder and softer throughout the recording, depending on which performance part was spliced in as the best.

The AHS student editor of the "best-of" tape become aware of the volume level differences in the edited "best of" tape, and prepared a detailed set of instructions with exact timings where the recording volume levels needed to be adjusted to equalize them.

The record company that pressed the record (Century Record Co) was only founded the year before, in 1958, and focused on the music education market. In the 1959 analogue tape era, mastering was not widely practiced. Therefore, Century Record pressed the record as received on the edited master tape, without providing any value added services.

A search of the internet implies that record company did not provide any mastering services, i.e., such services were not available from them. (Even if they had been available, such services may not have been in the School's choral budget.) The result was the record produced in 1959 is an uncomfortable listening experience.

The lesson learned looking back from many years later, is that much of what can now readily be accomplished via digital mastering of recorded materials was very difficult then and not widely practiced. Therefore, at that time it was especially critical for all recording conditions to be accomodated up front as part of how each recordings was made. That was the way to make sure when different takes were spliced together, they sounded like a coherent whole, without any mastering.

The GREAT news now in 2022 is:

Why Does The Crucifixion Become Public Domain in 2023?

Under copyright laws (including U.S., Britain and France), copyright exists for 70 years after the last surviving person associated with creating the work dies.

Thus, as of 2023, it will be 71 years since William Simpson died. Therefore, beginning in January 2023, the score for The Crucifixion will enter the Public Domain.

That means there will no longer be a requirement for royalty payments for providing copies of this recording of The Crucifixion, making it practical to provide free digital downloads, or at cost CDs.

Plans for Digital Mastering (for the first time)

Therefore, more than 60 years after the master for this record was edited together and pressed, TortoiseClimbingAudio plans as its next project in 2022 (after completing mastering the Hymns and Songs for Living album in 2022) to have the 1959 monaural LP recording from those performances of The Crucifixion by the AHS choirs digitized and mastered. Digital mastering will remove the volume changes that occur throughout the original LP that create an uncomfortable listening experience. It will also minimize the different acoustic setting of the patch.

Thus, for the first time since the performances in spring 1959, the digitally mastered version of the record of the 1959 performances will finally achieve the sound originally envisioned for this recording of the choirs' performances.

Distribution Plans


The resulting mastered digital audio file will be made available at the unbeatable price of a free download in several options of digital audio file formats with different fidelity (and size).

For those who would prefer a CD as a simple way to play this recording on their existing home sound system, TortoiseClimbingAudio is researching options for making simplistic copies of a CD available at cost.

A questimate of incremental costs for a CD, which include order processing, packaging and mailing, could be around $2.50. (That assumes an ordering/selling site like eBay or Bandcamp, etc., can provide a practical solution for taking payment, collecting the mailing information, and notifying TortoiseClimbingAudio to whom and where to ship each ordered CD).

At this point it is not clear who might be interested in obtaining a copy of this mastered performance, be it a download of a digital audio file or a CD? Persons could include:


When the score for The Crucifixion becomes Public Domain in January of 2023, it will become possible to provide free digital audio files of the mastered performance of the 1959 recording of the AHS choirs, free from the requirement for royalty payments. Therefore, TortoiseClimbingAudio plans to:

The dropdown submenu top left provides a link to the webpage from which that download capability will become available the beginning of 2023 for downloading versions of digital audio file formats for this mastered recording.

The 3 formats of digital audio file formats that absolutely will be provided include:

Whether the mastered recording can/should be provided in other formats depends on research and interest. Examples include:

Let TortoiseClimbingAudio know whether you have an interest in any of these.

How to Express Interest

You can express your interest for:

  1. Obtaining a copy of one of the 3 definite file formats for the mastered recording when it becomes available, or
  2. Other options, such as:

You can send your comments via the comments form on this website.

To submit your comment, go to the bottom of this page and click on the link Click to provide comment. It will take you to the comment page, where after providing identifying information, in the comments section at the bottom of the form you can explain your interest/request.

Possible Video Version On YouTube

Conceptually there is the possibility of creating a YouTube version of the mastered performance. That would be a bit of an undertaking to produce appropriate video content to accompany the mastered audio, in order to allow it to be posted to YouTube. But, it is a possibility. Again, is there any interest?

Further inputs are solicited to expand information about the choir director, Mr. Kunkle; making of this recording; etc!!

For example:

If you wish to comment on contents of this webpage, Clicking the button below will both transfer you to the Contact/Comment page, and pass along that you were on this webpage when you decided to comment.

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